Reading through my previous post, in which I talk about the importance of online friends in your life, I can see my mind swimming back to the not-so-distant past. And since the mind is already tickled by a few sips of smooth Bacardi that I've just got from Pondicherry, I feel like going into confessional mode. For I want to underscore, once again, the tremendous influence that an unseen/anonymous person can wield on your life.
The fact that they choose to remain behind the veil of anonymity is what makes their influence so powerful. Had they stepped out of the veil and shaken hands with you, you'd have said, "Oh, so you are the one!" and the magic would have gone out of the window. But by remaining anonymous, and revealing their brilliance only through the typed sentences on the chat window, they make you crave. They make you crave so badly that you desperately try to do something outstanding so that they can't resist coming out of the veil and taking you in their embrace. In my case, the craving forced me to work hard at my writing. I wanted to write better and better, so that one day a truly brilliant piece would smoke them out of their hiding holes and drive them straight to my doorstep. Today, if I can string together my thoughts in readable sentences, 20 percent of the credit goes to R and another 20 to S.
R and S, two women I've never ever met, seen or spoken to, yet these are two women who have tormented me the most and in the process shaped me as a writer. I will, however, bear a life-long grudge against them for not stepping out of the veil at that point of time. Not that it would matter to them, just as it did not matter to them even at the time. It doesn't matter to me either, not anymore; it is just that you like to harbour some grudges just for the sake of it.
The story dates back to the time when I was single but married to my laptop. I did not have a blog then. I wrote often for my paper, which eventually gave me a Sunday column. Since the columns had my email ID at the bottom, I would have a few people writing to me every Sunday morning and some of them -- invariably women -- would add me on their instant messaging list. That's how I met S. She came like a storm into my life. But before that R. She was like the calm of the Ganges.
I met R exactly five years ago. I was in Kanpur then, spending two months in Uttar Pradesh for election coverage, and when not travelling, I would kill a lot of time in the neighbourhood cybercafe. There was nothing else to do. That's when, during a visit to one of the Yahoo chatrooms, I ran to R. She was from Bombay: 27 years old, single and an ex-journalist who was now a senior writer with a software firm. The initial conversation was flirtatious, directionless and, on the whole, meaningless. Nevertheless, we added each other on our messenger lists. The subsequent conversations revealed that we were slices of the same piece of bread baked in the dusty plains of Uttar Pradesh. She grew up in Lucknow, I in Kanpur; we had read the same comic books while growing up; we had listened to the same programmes on Vividh Bharati, we had both recently read Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms, and, above all, we were both huge fans of R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar. She, in short, was me. My search had ended!
It was, therefore, shocking when she confessed, after months of online bonding, that she was already married and that her real name was different from what she had told me, even though that too began with an R. At first I sulked and wrote angry poems on my blog (by then, the blog had come into existence, and R and S were its first -- and for a few weeks, the only -- readers). And then I realised I was truly heart-broken and decided to have nothing to do with her. Yet, I just could not get her out of my mind. Everything I wrote, I wrote keeping in mind that she would be -- or should be -- approving of it, even if silently and without letting me know.
Then came the storm: S, the obgyn. As an obstetrician/gynaecologist, it was her job to peer into perineums and run a scalpel on them if required, but one could easily see that her first love was to run a scalpel through sentences and paragraphs. She was a natural writer and a born editor. Her sentences, even on the chat window, were well-crafted and impeccable, and I had no choice but to live up to her standards. Night after night, from midnight till the wee hours, when you are chatting with someone who refuses to compromise on the grammar and the syntax no matter how tired or lazy she feels, you automatically pull up your socks and try to live up to her expectations, in the the hope that...
Well, hoping is a futile exercise when it comes to such women. They are stubborn. One moment you look into the mirror and you find them smiling back at you, but the very next moment they are gone, and you realise you've only been looking at your own face all this while.
Today, I do not know where R is. I do not know where S is. Even if I do, it no longer matters. While I write this, R must be fast asleep, in a bed wide enough to hold her husband and child. S, on the other hand, must be awake, going bed to bed in one of the hospitals. I remember her talking about night shifts.
I don't remember when exactly -- and why exactly -- they went out of my lives. But they've left craters in which I fill ink and dip my nib into every time I get the urge to write. And come to think of it, I have never seen them or even spoken to them. Such is the power of thoughts.